Wittgenstein’s Philosophy and Austrian Economics

Richard McDonough


The paper, following a suggestion by Kripke, argues that there is an illuminating analogy between Wittgenstein’s philosophy and Austrian economics (particularly that of Mises and Hayek).  Most scholars interpret paragraph 608 of Wittgenstein’s Zettel (hereafter Z608) to suggest that language might arise out of physical chaos at the neural centre.  Since, however, Wittgenstein holds that the philosopher must not advance theories, he cannot consistently be advancing such theories in Z608.  Rather, all the key concepts in Z608 must be cashed in terms of Wittgenstein’s “forms of life”.  Thus, Z608, read carefully, suggests that language “arises”, not out of chaos in the brain, but out of the chaotic activities in human forms of life.  The paper shows that an analogous picture occurs in the early Austrian economists (such as Hayek, who is Wittgenstein’s cousin, and Mises). Z608 is part of a still unappreciated Austrian movement that emphasizes the creative chaos in human life.  In this connection the paper explains how Z608 is an application of Wittgenstein’s “private language argument” against a neural theory of a private language. Finally, the paper shows that the real argument in Z608 traces to early Austrian phenomenology—shedding light both on Wittgenstein’s philosophy and on Austrian economics.


Wittgenstein; Mises; Hayek; Market economics; Chaos theory; Private language argument; Forms of life

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/5884


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